Online News Act: Google withholds AI chatbot as Meta runs ads opposing new law

OTTAWA – Tech companies are continuing to push back on the Liberal government over its Online News Act, with Google withholding its new artificial-intelligence chatbot from Canada and Meta running ads opposing the law.

A Google spokesman said the company is working through regulatory uncertainty in Canada related to Bard, an AI-driven online conversational tool seen as a competitor to the popular ChatGPT from OpenAI.

Bard currently links to news, which will be subject to regulations in Canada now that the Online News Act, formerly known as Bill C-18, has become law.

In order to comply with the law, both Google and Meta have stated they would remove news links in Canada before the law comes into effect by the end of the year.

The law will force global tech players to enter into agreements with Canadian news outlets to compensate them for content shared or otherwise repurposed on their platforms.

Last week Google expanded Bard to the European Union after resolving regulatory concerns there.

The chatbot is available in more than 200 countries, but Canada is excluded alongside countries such as Russia, North Korea, China, Belarus, Afghanistan and Syria.

“As we continue to build Bard responsibly, we’re expanding access to more countries and regions in multiple languages,” said Google Canada spokesperson Shay Purdy in a statement.

“We’re committed to being good partners as we work through regulatory uncertainty in Canada, and we’re enthusiastic about bringing Bard’s generative AI potential to Canadians soon.”

Meanwhile, Meta has begun an ad campaign on its Facebook and Instagram platforms, criticizing the law and explaining its decision to remove news links.

Meta said it launched the campaign on Friday to keep Canadians informed about changes to its services.

The ads will also run on radio and digital, in both English and French, over the course of the next few weeks in markets across Canada, the company said.

“The Online News Act is based on the incorrect premise that social media companies benefit unfairly from news content shared on our platforms, but the reverse is true,” said Lisa Laventure, spokesperson for Meta, in a statement Monday.

“News outlets voluntarily share content on social media to expand their audiences and help their bottom line. Unfortunately, the only way we can reasonably comply with this legislation is to end news availability for people in Canada in the coming weeks.”

Meta is still undergoing a test that began in June to limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing news content in Canada.

The tests impact up to five per cent of Canadian users. Local CTV News stations and publications have taken to social media in recent weeks saying some of their viewers and readers cannot see their content on Facebook and Instagram.

Corus Entertainment, the parent company of Global News, has encouraged meaningful discussions around the law, while announcing it will stop advertising with Meta.

“Under the circumstances, Corus has decided to suspend all advertising across our own brands and trademarks with Meta, and we are encouraging our partners and clients to do the same,” Corus said in a statement on Monday that was posted to their Twitter account.

“We look forward to actively finding and promoting solutions that recognize the value of the Canadian media ecosystem, its journalists and news organizations.”

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Google and Meta do not have obligations under the law because the regulatory process is just beginning.

“We’re deeply convinced that Google’s and Facebook’s concerns can be resolved through the regulatory process. If Facebook truly believes that news has no value, they can say so at the negotiating table,” Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday.

“Threats to pull news instead of complying with the laws in our country only highlight the power that platforms hold over news organizations, both big and small.”

Google has said it will work with the government throughout the regulatory process, while Meta believes the process isn’t equipped to make changes to parts of the legislation it disagrees with.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2023.

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Meta funds a limited number of fellowships that support emerging journalists at The Canadian Press.

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